john hollenbeck large ensemble

Ben Kono  sop/alto/ten sax,  flute
Jeremy Viner  clarinet/tenor sax
Anna Webber  tenor sax, flute
Tony Malaby  ten/sop sax
Dan Willis  ten/sop sax,  english horn, flute
Bohdan Hilash  contra-alto clar, bass sax, clar
Mark Patterson  trombone
Mike Christianson  trombone
Jacob Garchik  trombone
Alan Ferber  trombone
Tony Kadleck  trumpet, flugelhorn
Jon Owens  trumpet, flugelhorn
Dave Ballou  trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt Holman  trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Tordini acoustic/electric bass
Matt Mitchell piano, organ, keyboard
Patricia Brennan  mallet percussion
John Hollenbeck  drums, composition
Theo Bleckmann  voice
JC Sanford  conductor

John Hollenbeck is one of the rare artists who have mastered the tradition of big band composition while crossing aesthetic boundaries and speaking directly to the time we live in today. His music is a daring mix of pure, heart-on-sleeve lyricism and robust rhythmic propulsion, and an audacious example of the power of big band jazz to express emotions well beyond swing-era clichés. His music for this group has earned acclaim for its rich, panoramic orchestral textures that retain the power of its members’ individual voices.

Unlike most contemporary big bands, this is no random agglomeration of freelancers – the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble is an actual band consisting of top New York musicians. John had been writing for big band since he was in college at the Eastman School of Music and eventually formed the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble in 1998 as an outlet to write the kind of music that wasn’t being written for this style of big band: “I saw some things that could be done that weren’t being done, and I thought there might be some other possibilities with a group that still has traditional instrumentation but the music itself is not traditional.” He gathered together a core group of musician friends who he had studied with at Eastman, and then selected a group of New York City musician friends and colleagues to complete the ensemble, creating a fine balance of camaraderie, integrity and talent – the perfect outlet for the creative expression of his music.

“You can hear, in [Hollenbeck’s] work, the collapse of cultural borders, the shuffling of traditions and influences, the old and the new and the earthy and the urban and the proper and the wiseass, swirling in unstable but unstoppable motion. Hollenbeck is a musician for our time.” – David Hadj, The New Republic 

Sunnyside Records celebrated the release of Songs I Like A Lot in 2013, John Hollenbeck’s fourth large ensemble album, featuring vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann, and pianist Gary Versace. The Album, commissioned by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, who also recorded it, is an exhibition of imaginatively remolded songs from a diverse array of musical worlds. According to DownBeat’s Frank Alkyer: “With Songs I Like A Lot, John Hollenbeck has created an absolute masterpiece of arranging” and showcases John’s arrangements of songs by Jimmy Webb, Imogen Heap, Ornette Coleman, Freddie Mercury and others. Hollenbeck’s arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” from this album is nominated for a 2014 GRAMMY for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).

“These may be songs Hollenbeck likes, but it’s how he hears them and, subsequently, arranges them for this large ensemble that’s indicative of an unerring ability to find good music in any corner, nook or cranny, turning it into something personal without ever losing what made it so good in the first place.”  — John Kelman, All About Jazz

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble’s second CD eternal interlude and their debut CD A Blessing also earned GRAMMY nominations for Best Jazz Large Ensemble Album. As The New York Times’ Nate Chinen said of the group’s second CD: “The drummer and composer John Hollenbeck inhabits a world of gleaming modernity, and “Eternal Interlude” (Sunnyside), the second album featuring his Large Ensemble, reflects both the clarity and brightness of his vision.” Hollenbeck’s compositions have also been recorded by Austria’s Jazz BigBand Graz on his third large ensemble album, 2006’s critically acclaimed Joys and Desires.

john hollenbeck large ensemble

Excerpt of A Blessing from the album A Blessing

“Profound, imaginative, well-developed pieces for [18] musicians, grown out of jazz and classical music, built around soloists but never subservient to them. As a big-band jazz composer, Mr. Hollenbeck was already good; now he’s become great.”  
— Ben Ratliff, NY Times


“John Hollenbeck’s 19-piece Large Ensemble can explode with rhythmic drive and technical dazzle, or it can evoke serene calm, tone poetry and even prayer. It’s a big band for a new eclectic world, building on the legacy of seminal big-band composer Bob Brookmeyer and other role models. Hollenbeck holds it together with intricate drumming, compositional acumen and searing wit as he marshals the resources of top jazz improvisers.” 
— David R. Adler, TimeOut NY


“Calling the drummer-composer John Hollenbeck a jazz musician is like referring to Thom Yorke as a mere rock and roll crooner. It seems a rather narrow description for someone with such prodigious talents and ambitions. Mr. Hollenbeck writes pieces for his large ensemble that are almost symphonic. They share a lot with the more ecstatic strains of contemporary classic music, the kind practiced by John Adams and the drummer’s longtime employer, Meredith Monk. And yet if David Binney is a jazz musician then so is Mr. Hollenbeck. They are both reinvigorating the art form with influences from the broader culture. Jazz needs more of this.”
– Devin Leonard, The New York Observer